River cruising comes with a variety of choices. Which river? Which countries? Which ship? Which activities? Which stateroom? There are enough question marks to cause decision fatigue before the trip ever begins. But the big question perhaps is what’s your budget?
A river cruise is a major purchase. To help you figure out what may work best for your budget, we developed a comparison of prices between multiple lines – a task that required extensive research in the hopes of cobbling together a better understanding of the price differences and inclusions between companies and their ships.
Mindful of that, we’ve spent a lot of time during the past year coming up with a plethora of price comparison charts that will hopefully aid you in better determining which river cruise is right for you – at a price point that is comfortable for you.
First, however, let’s take a look at some general guidelines about budgets.
How Much Do You Want To Spend?
How much are you comfortable with spending for your river cruise? Though there are no hard and fast guidelines, I recommend thinking about how much you would be comfortable spending on a daily basis. Below, I provide a range of per diems, from less than US$400 per day to more than US$400 per day. Knowing what you’re comfortable spending can help you match the ship to your budget.
Sky’s The Limit, More Than $400 Per Person Per Day
If the sky’s the limit, you’ll find a good fit with Crystal, Scenic, Tauck or Uniworld. All are truly all-inclusive whereas on the other river cruises you’ll typically need to pay gratuities, and you’ll need to dole out extra for drinks outside of lunch and dinner and some excursions. For truly all-inclusive cruises, expect to spend more than $400 per day per person.
As an example, Scenic’s 12-day Bordeaux sailings from May through September, 2017, start at US$6,230 per person, double, and include free or reduced airfare. That’s $519 per person per day. But keep in mind that air is included or reduced.
Down To Earth, Up To $400 Per Person Per Day
If your budget is up to $400 per day per person, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways and Viking River Cruises will usually fall within your budget. Example, in 2017, AmaWaterways’ 8-day Enticing Douro river cruises, one of its higher priced river cruises, starts at $3,099. That’s $387 per person, per day.
We’ve developed a comprehensive table outlining the cruise line, the itinerary, the duration, inclusions and the voyage’s average per diem (price per day). We’ve also outlined whether things like port charges are included.
We’ve made sure to list inclusivity; after all, a cruise that is initially more expensive may come out to be the more affordable option if it includes gratuities, transfers and beverages. These kinds of incidentals can really add up on a longer voyage.
Notes on Pricing
All of our data was collected from actual cruises based on fares found on each cruise line’s website during the summer and fall of 2017. These prices can still be used as a rough guide to illustrate the average price differential between one or more cruise itineraries. Our intent is to update the tables annually.
A Travel Agent Can Still Get You A Deal
Note that the prices we rely on aren’t special one-time offers or anything like that; a good travel agent may still be able to get you a deal depending on the special offers they’ve managed to extract from their river cruise line partners.
Limited-time specials won’t dramatically reduce the cost of a given river cruise, but quite often they can incentivize to the point where you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.
We’re Concentrating On Europe – For Now
Right now, our price comparison charts focus heavily on Europe, for one simple reason: The vast majority of the world’s river cruising is currently focused on rivers like the Danube, Main, Rhine, and other more off-the-beaten-path waterways like Portugal’s Douro River and Italy’s Po. But we hope to expand these comparisons to destinations in Russia, China and Southeast Asia.
Don’t see a price comparison here that you’re interested in? Let us know using the comment form at the bottom of the page. In the meantime, have a peek at some of the pricing differences between European river cruises; what you find may very well surprise you.
2018 Price Comparisons For River Cruises In Europe
Click the links in the "rivers" column to view the pricing comparisons for each river.
Riverside Chat Video
What We Like
|Click Between Amsterdam & Budapest Typically 14 days or longer and Includes the Rhine, Main, Main-Danube Canal & the Danube.||The duration of the cruise, spanning 14 nights/15 days, is perfect for those who have the time for a truly immersive European experience.
The itinerary serves up three rivers, five countries and plenty of scenic cruising through the heartland of Europe.
|Click Bordeaux, Garonne & Dordogne rivers Ranges from four days to 12 days typically roundtrip Bordeaux.||Bordeaux river cruises are a good pick for those who want to explore France for the first time or for those looking to complete their “portfolio” of river cruises in France.
Bordeaux river cruises rank high for active travelers who appreciate hikes and bikes, and for those who savor the storied wines produced in the vineyards that give Bordeaux its understated, elegant and timeless beauty.
|Click Danube Christmas Markets Typically a weeklong between late November and end of December.||For the Christmas Markets, the best time to travel is November 25 and December 24. Excursions are designed to coincide with the historic Christmas Markets that pop up in outdoor squares in the smallest of towns and the largest of cities all over Europe.
For downright coziness, Christmas Markets cruises are among our favorites.
|Click Danube River Typically weeklong cruises between Germany and Hungary, although cruises also run from Romania to Hungary or Austria.||The Danube is our number one choice for people new to river cruising. Why? The Danube features a list of marquee cities - Nuremberg, Passau, Linz, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava (as well as Bucharest and Belgrade on some itineraries) and it offers something for everyone.
What I've found that most people appreciate most about the Danube:
- Scenic beauty as you cruise through gorgeous landscapes and past fairy-tale villages
- Visits to iconic cities such as those mentioned
- Excursions to UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Cesky Krumlov
- Evening concerts and waltzes (both on the ships and during evening visits to Viennese palaces)
- Opportunities to bicycle, particularly on the gorgeous stretch between Melk and Durnstein through the Wachau Valley
|Click Douro River Typically weeklong cruises roundtrip Porto with excursions to Salamanca, Spain.||Some things we appreciate about Douro River Cruising:
- Wine, Wine, Everywhere: For those who appreciate good wine, particularly port wine, a trip down the Douro is an excellent education, with plenty of tasting opportunities.
- More Time in Port: Because of the shorter distances on the Douro, ships spend more time docked in port compared to other European river cruise itineraries. This allows guests to better sample the nightlife, or take part in longer, overland journeys.
- Lots of Choice: Douro river cruising has evolved from being a niche river with only a handful of operators to a major destination with plenty of choice when it comes to which lines, ships and itineraries you want to take.
- Ease of Access: both Porto and Lisbon are easy destinations to fly to and from, with non-stop flights from numerous North American and European gateways.
|Click Rhine River Typically weeklong cruises between Basel, Switzerland and Amsterdam.||After the Danube, the Rhine is Europe’s next most-popular river for vacationers looking to take a river cruise. With most departures sailing between Amsterdam, Netherlands and Basel, Switzerland in the south, Rhine river cruises can visit numerous countries in a single week, including the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Switzerland, with inland excursions that reach as far as Belgium, Luxembourg and The Hague.
What We Like About Rhine River Cruises
- Castles. You’ll see lots of them along the Rhine river, especially between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany. Be sure to be out on deck.
- Culture. With cities like Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Cologne, Amsterdam and more, you’ll get a good dollop of city life and culture on your Rhine River cruises.
- Bicycling. In many places along the Rhine river, there are good bicycling paths and dedicated bike roads. Straddle and saddle and enjoy the ride.
- Beer and wine. Have a Cologne Kolsch before or after checking out the impressive Cologne Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), or stroll the “world’s merriest street,” known as the Drosselgasse, to find a Weingarten in Rudesheim, Germany.
|Click Rhone & Saone rivers Typically weeklong cruises between Lyon and Arles.||Rhône River cruises typically are between Lyon and Avignon or Arles in France. Many packages also include the Saône River, which joins the Rhône in Lyon.
Here's a few things I enjoy about Rhone river cruises.
- Provencal and Bourgogne Beauty. Rhône River cruises typically sail between Lyon and Avignon or Arles, taking in the gorgeous landscapes of Burgundy and Provence.
- Pont du Gard. The iconic bridge crossing the Gardon River is one of the best-preserved legacies of ancient Roman architecture in France.
- Bicycling. We’ve enjoyed cycling along the Rhône and Saône rivers though the wine-producing region of Beaujolais and along the Île de la Barthelasse across from the city of Avignon.
- Arles. Perhaps best-known for its incredible Roman monuments and the fact that the impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh lived here from 1888 to 1889.
- Wonderful Wines. Rhône River cruises typically visit the wine-producing regions of Beaujolais and Chateauneuf du Pape.
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and Pont du Gard.
A Rhone river cruise serves up the very best of France. From gorgeous wine-producing countryside to storied cities to UNESCO World Heritage sites and well-preserved vestiges of Roman occupation, a river cruise along the Rhone mixes France’s heritage and history with the country’s ever-present charm and beauty.
|Click Seine River Typically weeklong cruises from Paris, roundtrip, with visits to the Normandy landing beaches.||On a Seine River cruise, you most always begin and end your trip in Paris, where ships dock within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Cruises are usually roundtrip to Rouen, Caudebec-en-Caux or Honfleur. You should note, however, that few vessels can actually make it to the center of Honfleur for docking.
What We Like About A Seine River Cruise
- The experience of Paris. Ships often overnight in the City of Light, giving you ample time to explore, not only during day but also in the evening. I’ve walked the distance between our boat and the Eiffel Tower twice, in fact, on two separate evenings on a couple of Seine River cruise sailings.
- Monet’s gardens in Giverny. Visiting Monet’s gardens is like walking into one of his impressionistic paintings. You can get to the gardens by bus or by bike. We chose to bike on one our visits – recommended if you’re an active traveler. Have your camera handy – and your sketch pad if you’re an aspiring artist.
- The Landing Beaches of Normandy. Most Seine River cruise itineraries list Normandy as a destination. However, travel to Normandy is by motorcoach rather than riverboat. I traveled to the Landing Beaches from Rouen, about 90 minutes away, with my teenage son. We watched “Saving Private Ryan” on our iPad on the way to the American Cemetery.
- Honfleur. The extremely picturesque port inspired many well-known artists. It will inspire you to raise your camera – many times. A must see.
- Les Andelys. Ships dock within walking distance of Chateau-Galliard, built by Richard the Lionheart in only two years between 1196 and 1198.
- Rouen, the “city of 100 spires,” as the writer Victor Hugo characterized the capital of Upper Normandy more than a century ago. The writer Gustav Flaubert was born here and wrote Madame Bovary more than 150 years ago. Claude Monet lived in an apartment across from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Jeanne d’Arc, more popularly known in the English tongue as Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake and martyred in Rouen.